Consistent Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 reminds us of who God is. So when we come to Him in prayer, we can thank Him for taking care of us…leading and guiding us, directing us, providing for our needs, protecting us, His presence with us.

We can have confidence in our everyday life with God when it sinks in that He really is for us. No matter what our circumstances may be…no matter what our enemies may say…God is greater. He is greater than anyone or anything. So if we really believe that…if we really believe that God is greater, if we believe that He is committed to our good, if we believe that He is pursuing us and that He is fierce in His love for us…like Paul says in Romans 8…that nothing can separate us from His love, we too can face the darkest valleys with unflinching courage knowing that our Shepherd is there with us. In fact He’s gone before us and is showing us the way if we will only follow… And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? That is our confidence in prayer.

When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.

It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.

The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.

One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m walking in the mornings (because the gym’s closed), when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. I like what a guy named William Law said about it…“He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection[1726], London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)

Someone asked me, is prayer for us or for God? What an interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbor…face-to-face, on the phone, by text, or even by zoom…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things, our Shepherd who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.

But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a DVM…Divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He is leading us through the darkest valleys, never leaving us alone, but seeing us through to green pastures and quiet waters. And as Paul says in Romans 8, somehow and in someway He’s working it together for our good.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God for? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they’re the same questions I’ve asked at some point on my spiritual journey. I do think the things we ask God for are important, but primarily for this reason…they reveal where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to transform us to live and love like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and consistent time spent in prayer just talking to your Father. Both that and time spent in His Word…

Two last words…first, while personal time in prayer is super important, pro tip…time in prayer with other believers leads to even greater gains. It’s in prayer that we can lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice and weep together…share our hopes and dreams, doubts and fears with each other. A community group or small group is a great avenue for that.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is another great way to lead your families. Maybe share prayer requests/concerns/praises at the dinner table. Spend some time praying for each other. Doesn’t have to be long. Find time to pray with your wife. Fiercely pursue and protect the oneness that God calls you to as a couple.

(A couple of resources that you might find helpful…ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), prayer guides on YouVersion/bible.com, Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer (praying scripture), Psalms as prayers.)

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

Paul says it this way in Romans 12.2, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” By spending quality time in God’s Word every day, the Spirit takes the truth that we have read and begins to transform us, so that whatever the situation, we can discern what it is that God would have us do.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile. But if you skip going to the gym for a time, or running or riding your bike, or whatever your exercise of choice, you will quickly find out how much you’ve lost. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. I think we’ve all experienced those things over the last several months in lockdown. If we don’t use it, we lose it. The same is true spiritually…if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

So, if you suspect that might be you…that you might be a spiritual “infant”…how do you begin your path to maturity? Start training today with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying. If you are trying, then you may be tempted to give up when you fail. But the beauty of training is that failure is built into the process. So take the long view. Try, fail, try again, fail better, and repeat…

Where to start reading? What do you like to read? Do you like poetry? Start with Psalms. Do you like wisdom literature, pithy sayings? Then, Proverbs. Action? Genesis or 1 Samuel or Mark. But read the Bible and not just about the Bible. What I mean by that is…many folks read devotional books and count that as their Bible time. Devotional books are great, but don’t let them replace your Bible. Pick a book and start. Work your way up to the heavier books like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Romans or Revelation. Pray before you start that God will help you put into practice what you’re learning. And if you miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up, just start again.

Two last words, both are applicable to every one of the five marks of a disciple…first, while personal time in the Word is super important, pro tip…time in the Word with other believers leads to even greater gains. The Bible was written to a community of believers and that’s how it’s best understood and applied. If you are not a part of a community group but would like to be, we have a number of groups starting this fall. You can connect right now through the online chat on our website. Just go to centralchristian.org and click on the chat box near the bottom of the page and you’ll be connected to a host right away.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is a great opportunity for you to begin to lead your families. Share with your wife and your kids what God is teaching you through His Word, and encourage them to do the same. Maybe read a Proverb a day together…

Let’s press on to maturity then, spending quality time daily in God’s Word, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we might live and love like Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Greetings Part 1

Romans 1.1-7

Paul packs a lot into seven verses. A summary view of the gospel he will spend the next several chapters explaining. I fully expected to get through verse 17 with this first sermon, but you can see by the part 1 I didn’t quite get there. Welcome to Romans.

Two things I want to leave you with. The gospel is for the lost…for those who have not yet trusted in Jesus. To you I want to say…God has been pursuing wayward sons and daughters from the beginning. Because of His amazing grace. Because of His astounding love. He has provided a way through Jesus that we might know Him and be reconciled to Him and be saved. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, why not make today the day?

The gospel is also for the found…for those of us who have trusted in Jesus. We have been saved on purpose for a purpose. To do good works, to let our light shine, to obey the One who has saved us. In our free and independent culture we sure don’t like the idea of having to be beholden to anyone. We don’t like folks telling us what to do. We want to be our own man/woman. We want to be our own boss.

And yet the Christian life is one of obedience. If we trust the One we are called to obey…if we really believe that He loves us, that He knows us, and that He wants the best for us, then obedience should be one of the easiest things we could do (John 15). So if you are having a hard time with obedience…doing what Jesus says…my guess is that there is a breakdown somewhere. Either you doubt God’s love for you or that He really knows/cares about you or that He wants what’s best for you. Which might that be for you?

This series in the book of Romans is a great opportunity to invite folks to church. In it we see the seriousness of sin and the greatness of God’s love. It reminds us that both the sinner and the seemingly self-righteous are in need of a Savior…and that there is hope in Jesus.

As we go through the book of Romans, we will learn a lot about what God calls us to do. Let’s commit right now to do it.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Romans series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Essentials: Scripture

2 Peter 1.3-9

Being transformed to live and love like Jesus is the ultimate goal of the Christian life. The good news is, we’ve been equipped with everything we need to pursue this life…the Scriptures and the Spirit. Peter even gives us some hand and footholds, a list of virtues from faith to love.

I know we all want to finish well…we want our lives to have an impact for the kingdom. And some of you are having a huge impact right now. I think of those who are volunteering in our children’s and youth ministries, those who are leading community groups or small groups, those who are serving the homeless, or are leading in any number of other ministries that take place on our campus. Keep after it. The race is not done…we haven’t crossed the goal line. It’s hard work to finish well, but it’s worth it.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile. But if you skipped going to the gym for a time, or didn’t run or ride your bike , you find out pretty quickly how easy it is to lose ground. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. It’s true in every area of life…if we don’t use it, we lose it. So how do we miss it spiritually? It should be obvious that if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

What if that’s you? Maybe you started out well, or maybe not so well, and now you’re wondering what to do. Peter would say, “I know you’ve messed up. I know you’ve failed Jesus. So did I…” but the good news is, you can still finish well. How? Get back to the basics. Begin today to pursue godliness…to spend time in the Bible getting to know God, not just getting to know about Him, but really knowing Him and doing what He says. Start with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying…

Let’s resolve to make consistent time in the Word a priority in 2020.

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This post is based on our January Series, Essentials. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

Acts 20.1-16

As Paul finishes up his third missionary journey, the kingdom impact he’s had on the Mediterranean World is evidenced by the folks who accompany him on his way.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered or what do you want to be remembered for? My dad wanted to leave behind a family business for generations to come…or at least for his kids. And while his business was somewhat successful, the getting the kids-turned-adults involved part never really worked out.

Maybe the legacy you want to leave isn’t in the marketplace…maybe you don’t have a family business to pass on. Maybe it’s a significant contribution to your field of expertise. Maybe it’s your kids and your grandkids. Unfortunately, all of those legacies have one thing in common. They all fade with time. But there is a legacy that you can leave that will never fade. It’s the kingdom impact you have on another person. Sharing your story and then bringing them along as you follow Jesus…you may have heard it called discipleship. Bringing someone one step closer to Jesus.

Paul never did ministry alone, and he continually invested in the lives of those he was bringing along. So who are your traveling buddies? Who are you following Jesus with? And who are you bringing along? Who are you building into? Who are you teaching about the faith? Who are you challenging to bring another along? Who are you passing the baton to?

Let me challenge you with this this week…if you are not involved in a small group or community group of some kind, get involved. If you are not investing time bringing someone else along in the faith, pray about who that might be and then be intentional about building into their life.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

A Riot at Ephesus

Acts 19.21-41

Paul prepares to leave Ephesus to return to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. But before he can leave, a riot breaks out in the city. The gospel is transforming lives, which is proving to have an adverse effect on the local economy.

The gospel is good news. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a new heart and God’s Spirit living within them. They pass from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…they are not who they used to be. Jesus changes everything!

For the folks at Ephesus, that meant confessing their sins and making a clean break with their past…no more magic, but also no more Artemis worship. And it made an impact on their city. The impact can be seen in two different ways. First there’s the number of folks who believe, then there’s the radical change in their behavior. One or two or a handful whose behavior is radically changed will have an impact, but probably not enough to cause a riot. And a great number of folks whose behavior changes a little will have an impact, but again probably not enough to cause a riot. But when you combine those two…a large number of people who are radically changed…then you have the recipe for a riot.

So I wonder what kind of impact we are having on our community, and is it the impact we want to have…are we causing a stir by the way we follow Jesus? Are we disrupting the economy of those who are peddlers of sin and bad choices? The Ephesian Christians caused a stir, not by picketing outside Demetrius’ shop and not by running a smear campaign against Artemis. How did they cause a stir? By living a different kind of life. A noticeably different kind of life. A life marked by the gospel and transformed by God’s grace. And if we want to make an impact on our community for good, that’s where it starts…by living lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and sharing the hope that we have with those around us who so desperately need it. So let me challenge you this week…If one or two of us live lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and share the hope that we have with others, we’ll have an impact…but if a thousand of us do it, we’ll have a riot. Let’s start a riot!

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living with Your Family

1 Peter 3

Submitting to those God has placed in authority over us is never easy, but when we do so, we show our trust is in God to take care of us and see us through, come what may. In all our relationships we are to do good, and seek the good of those around us. Our good behavior will influence some to trust in Jesus. But not all. So when suffering comes from doing right, we need not fear but can rejoice because we are following the example of Jesus.

Noah obeyed God and did the right thing even though the world around him was clearly not. He showed his trust in God by continuing to do the right thing even while suffering for it. And he and his family were saved because of his faith.

Once again we see a strong call to be in or out…you are either for or against Jesus. He’s already paid the penalty for our sin so that we can have a relationship with God. Why not trust in Him today?

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living Out Your Faith

1 Peter 4

The way of following Jesus is difficult and treacherous, full of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows…definitely not the easiest path through life. You’ve declared your allegiance to the true King and have become a traitor to this world. Those who once called you friend have become bitter foes. Your world has been turned upside down.

And yet it’s the best decision you could have ever made. Because now there is a real sense of purpose and meaning to your life, a direction. And you are experiencing joy you couldn’t have imagined and a peace that just doesn’t make sense, given your circumstances. You are a citizen of the kingdom with an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life. Suffering will come…but it comes to everyone…whether that suffering comes because of your faith or because you live on this planet, do right and trust God to see you through.

But what if that’s not your experience? First question is, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you… If you have trusted in Jesus, have you turned fully to Him, or are you still hanging on to your old life? Many of us miss out on the fullness of life that Jesus calls us to and saved us for because we give a nod to Him but continue to pursue life the way we want to live it. If that’s you, let me invite you to make a clean break with your old way of life today…your selfish and self-centered way of living life…and turn fully to Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living With a New Identity

1 Peter 2

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new identity. We are a new, living temple…and we join the ranks of His people along with His saints of old. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. How amazing is that! That should cause us to want to show and tell others about Him. Show through a life lived well, and tell what great things He has done for us in saving us.

Jesus will mean either honor or ruin for you. He will either give you life or condemn you to death. There is no Switzerland when it comes to Jesus. No neutral zone. No sidelines. You are either for or against Him. You are either trusting in Him or rejecting Him. He will either be your King or your Judge. Why not make Him your King today? Life is short. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Your eternal destiny is at stake.

And for those of you who have trusted in Him, does the living of your life reflect that? Are you living a life above reproach or are you giving your opponents reason to question the sincerity of your faith? Are you being a good citizen…employee…son/daughter…student…player…etc? Are you trusting God in the midst of trying circumstances, or just trying to get even?

Suffering is a given in life…part of the fallen world we live in. The way we approach suffering, whatever flavor it may be…persecution, sickness, death, wayward children, a broken relationship, etc…is testimony to a watching world whether or not our faith is real and whether or not it really matters. So do what’s right and choose to trust God no matter the circumstances.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living Like Jesus

1 Peter 1

Jesus changes everything! Because of His death and resurrection we have a living hope…a hope that’s alive because Jesus is alive and a hope that continues to grow and mature as we follow Him. We need not live a life of fear, though the world around us is shaking, we can have confidence knowing that the temporary things may fade, but the kingdom remains.

If you have trusted in Jesus, He has rescued you from sin and death and has given you new life. This world is no longer your home. You have a new address…the kingdom where you have an inheritance awaiting you. You are protected by God’s power in this life…doesn’t mean that you won’t have physical pain or sorrow or even death…but it does mean the eternal life you have cannot be taken away. And even the trials that come are meant to strengthen your faith and remove everything that keeps you from fully trusting God.

And because we have this living hope and unshakable salvation, we are freed up to love. To love the way God loves. To love full on. Nothing held back. A love that shares the same message of hope…the gospel…with others.

So let us live as sojourners in this world. Let us live courageous and generous lives, preoccupied with the kingdom. Let us make an impact in the lives of those around us for Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster